Nominally Communist, China has seen the gap between rich and poor widen tremendously since Beijing opened up its economy to the world and embraced business, setting off its tremendous growth spurt. The families of China’s top leaders have often benefited from that rise. Officials in Beijing regularly summon foreign journalists to complain about articles and have repeatedly warned them that reporting on the wealth of the country’s top leaders and their families is a “red line” that the authorities would not tolerate.
After The New York Times reported in 2012 on the hidden wealth of the family of China’s then-premier, Wen Jiabao, the newspaper was unable to secure accreditation for its other reporters, one of whom had to wait for close to three years. Bloomberg News also struggled to obtain approval of new visas for journalists after its reporters wrote about the wealth accumulated by the family of Mr. Xi, who became China’s leader a year later. Both services were blocked in China.
The Journal’s article, which quoted unnamed Australian officials, delved deeply into that sensitive area.
It said that the authorities were scrutinizing Mr. Chai, an Australian citizen, as part of a broad money-laundering and organized crime investigation. It described their interest in Mr. Chai’s high-stakes gambling sessions in Australian casinos, and said “he often flaunted his familial link to Mr. Xi while chasing business opportunities.” It also described his business dealings and big real estate purchases made by him and his wife.
But the reporters noted that there was “no indication that Mr. Xi did anything to advance Mr. Chai’s interests, nor that the Chinese leader has any knowledge of his cousin’s business and gambling activities.”
China’s Foreign Ministry at the time called the accusations groundless. The Journal article followed similar coverage by Australian news outlets. Others, including The New York Times, also covered the investigation. The Times’s article said Mr. Chai was not the main target of the investigation.
Chinese officials have offered little indication they will soften their tone.
In its 2018 annual survey of working conditions for foreign journalists in China, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said that the authorities had issued severely shortened visas and reporting credentials, including one for just two and a half months, to at least five correspondents. More than half of the respondents, the largest proportion since 2011, said they believed conditions deteriorated in 2018, when foreign media coverage of pro-democracy protests prompted a government backlash.
“Survey results painted the darkest picture of reporting conditions inside China in recent memory,” the club said.
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